Terra Madre Day Special: Producing Butter – A Political Act in Rwanda

For Terra Madre Day 2012, the members of the Huye Convivium in Rwanda will organize a workshop at the Runda elementary school dedicated to the traditional methods of producing butter and cheese. It will be an occasion to explain both to the children and adults the importance of safeguarding local traditions, by denouncing the national agricultural politics that have put the survival of the local cattle breed in danger.

“European cows have been introduced to the detriment of the local Inyambo breed due to their greater production of milk, explains convivium leader Marie Jeanne Kayitesi. “But compared to the imported cows, the Inyambo breed was better adapted to the environment, consumed less food and water, and produced richer and more nutritious milk. The current government has organized co-ops of breeders throughout the country and has forced them to sell their entire production of milk to dairies that are equipped with modern materials for the production of butter and cheese.” Traditional breeding may therefore succumb to these provisions, leading to the disappearance of the Inyambo breed as well as the traditions that have been associated with it.

In Rwanda butter and cheese was traditionally produced by churning. “First you let the milk sit for three days, until it begins to coagulate; then, to separate the butter from the milk, the women sit on a mat and gently stir the milk in a gourd while reciting ritual words. The churning of the butter has not completely disappeared, but it survives in a single region, Umutara, on the border with Uganda. Those who persist in the traditional churning methods are considered outlaws, thus the butter obtained by churning Inyambo milk is produced in secret, in the places farthest away from the capital and strictly for home consumption.

“The event organized for Terra Madre Day aims to denounce the poor quality of mass produced milk, as well as to sensitize the younger generation to the safeguarding of Rwandan pastoral traditions. During this ceremony, which will see the participation not only of school children, but also of invited adults (teachers, breeders and local authorities), older women will give a practical demonstration of churning, and they will invite the school children to try it for themselves.”

“Terra Madre Day does not have the power to revive this tradition,” says Ms. Kayitesi, “The return can only take place slowly, initially in the rural areas and then later in Kigali, within sight of the government which is currently opposed to these traditions. Nevertheless, we hope that this event can generate awareness among both young people and adults”.


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